Hopefully you and Puppy made it through your first night without any emergencies, and you have the essential routines established. You've gotten enough supplies for the first week-ish; you've introduced Puppy to his new home, and hopefully set up some rules/boundaries in regards to his crate, going to the bathroom, feeding time, and playing with toys.
Now it's time to address the most pressing issues of dog ownership. Definitely don’t put these off—you want to get the ball rolling on these things ASAP.
SIGN UP FOR PET INSURANCE
This Isn't Optional
In my opinion, purchasing health insurance for your pet is a responsibility of pet ownership on par with feeding and housing. If you can't afford the $20-40/month for insurance, you should reconsider whether you're a good candidate to own a dog. You're not doing Puppy any favors by being his owner but not providing adequate healthcare.
Caveat: If you are taking on a dog that has established medical issues, health insurance won't be covering any of them (because they are pre-existing conditions). So, you may need to do some thinking about whether paying a monthly premium ON TOP OF paying out-of-pocket for existing health issues is going to save you any money. Personally, it makes more sense to me to pay $40/month on the off-chance that Puppy gets hit by a car and you're suddenly facing a $5,000+ emergency surgery bill (which will ALWAYS be covered), no matter what pre-existing conditions he came with. But...maybe that's just me. You'll have to make your own decision. Also, you’re a total saint for taking on a dog with established medical issues, and I sincerely applaud you.
I Use Healthy Paws, But There Are Options
I have an extensive explanation of how Healthy Paws insurance has helped me right here. I go into a lot of detail because I've made plenty of claims with them and am familiar with how the company works. If you want to investigate other companies, make sure you do your research, because no two companies are the same! If you end up choosing Healthy Paws, use any of the links on Patchwork Dogs to get a free quote and qualify for up to a 10% lifetime referral discount!
It's Affordable, It Covers a Lot, But It Doesn't Cover Everything
I started out paying $37/month (this year it only increased to $39.75 and I have been making claims regularly, I'll get into why in just a second), my annual deductible is only $100, and I'm getting reimbursed at 90%.
My plan does not cover preventative services like vaccines, flea control, heartworm meds, spaying/neutering, grooming, dental care, or behavioral modification, nor does it cover the office visit charge itself. However, I STILL find it worth it.
Go here to see how I saved over $10,000 by having pet health insurance through Healthy Paws!
Waiting Periods and Pre-Existing Conditions
When I signed up, a 15-day waiting period clock began. During that time, I had to take Chance for an enrollment vet exam. Anything that was diagnosed at that point would have been considered a "pre-existing condition" and would have been exempt from coverage. Fortunately, because he was so young, there was nothing wrong with him.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: the longer you wait to sign up for coverage, the higher your chances of Puppy developing a "condition" that "pre-exists" his insurance enrollment--and that condition will NOT BE COVERED by insurance, EVER!!!! This is why signing up for insurance is THE VERY FIRST THING YOU NEED TO DO TODAY. Read more about waiting periods and pre-existing conditions in my health insurance explanation.
Insurance Covers Things Like Allergies
Yes, insurance covers catastrophes in the distant future (like cancer) and rare catastrophes that could happen any time (getting hit by car).
But it ALSO covers the things that don't SEEM like they'd be a big deal...but can add up quickly.
A few months after I adopted Chance, he started scratching himself. Just a little at first. Then more...and more. Until he was scratching so much he was bleeding. It was obviously uncomfortable for him, and I couldn't sleep because he would scratch through the night. I took him to the vet, who diagnosed him with allergies.
ALLERGIES. Such a simple, stupid little thing. But if I hadn't gotten insurance, it would have been a VERY expensive stupid little thing. Treatment for allergies involves trying a bunch of different prescription oral antihistamines and steroids (covered), medicated shampoos (covered), prescription creams and lotions (covered), and finally a $400 blood test to determine what his specific allergies were (covered). This test revealed that Chance had a bunch of environmental AND food allergies, and when I switched his food to something he wasn't allergic to, his scratching got MUCH better. But then...he got worse. So his vet prescribed an expensive miracle drug called Apoquel (that completely alleviated his itching)--which costs $1,500/year. BUT IT'S COVERED BY INSURANCE! So I only pay $150.
(Full disclosure: If you click the link I’ve included at the end of the chapter for Healthy Paws to purchase Healthy Paws insurance, I get a referral bonus. But I promise you, I only discovered that I could do that as I was writing my original blog post and realized I had written a love letter to Healthy Paws to whom I give money every single month anyway and I thought, "they really should reward me somehow for this free advertising.")
Have I convinced you to get insurance? OK, good. Now let's make sure that if you lose track of Puppy, there's a way to find him.
Get Puppy Microchipped, Or Register His Microchip
Check to See If Puppy Has a Microchip
You can't tell by looking if Puppy has been chipped (a vet can use a scanner to tell, though). Hopefully you were told whether it had been done or not. If not, take a look at those papers the rescue handed you--if he was microchipped already, there should be a form in there that explains how to transfer the chip's registration information from the rescue over to you. Chance's chip was registered by a company called HomeAgain--I easily created an account on their website, sent in the form that transferred ownership, and in a few weeks everything was up to date on the site.
Read the site carefully, by the way--apparently, I didn't need to sign up for the yearly membership account (it was only like $18 but whatever). That grants extra perks, like the company will proactively notify area veterinarians if you report your dog missing, but I decided that having the microchip was enough for me. So read all the fine print before you whip out your credit card.
If Puppy Is NOT Chipped, Or If You're Not Sure, GET HIM SCANNED/CHIPPED IMMEDIATELY
Maybe you got dog tags at the pet store when you bought his collar. That's great if Puppy escapes and is picked up by a Good Samaritan who calls the number on the tag. Not so helpful if Puppy is picked up by a nefarious individual collecting bait dogs for dog-fighting operations--said individual will simply remove Puppy's collar/tags and throw it away and you'll never see Puppy again.
So when you make your first appointment with your vet, let them know that you're not sure if your dog is microchipped and you may need to get that done. I read accounts of people who were told by the rescue that their dog had been chipped, but the vet revealed that he never had been, so always better to be safe than sorry.
Which brings us to.....
Make An Appointment With Your New Veterinarian!
Find a Vet
If you already have a vet you love, skip this part. Personally, I did not, and I found the best way to find one was the old-school Yelping and Facebook crowd-sourcing. I've found that Yelp is particularly ridiculous when it comes to vet reviews--vets either performed a miracle and saved Fluffy's life, or is the Devil incarnate and did NOT save Fluffy's life. Scour Yelp with a healthy dose of salt--mainly you're looking for specific doctors names that come up over and over at bigger practices (so you don't just get stuck with the vet who gets the least appointments when you call). Personal recommendations from friends are the best--that's how I found our current vet, Dr. Alan Schulman at the Animal Medical Center of Southern California.
*Important: If the vet you choose does not practice at a 24-hour emergency facility, locate the nearest 24-hour emergency vet facility. It's like how you've got your regular doctor, but then you also know where the closest hospital with an emergency room is.
Make an Appointment ASAP
Don't put this off. You probably need to get an exam out of the way during your health insurance enrollment waiting period, remember? Also, you want to get a head-start on establishing a relationship with your vet--this person (and your trainer) will be your lifeline.
Before you go to your appointment, check out the next part of this series. I'll be covering questions you'll want to ask your vet (including things I wish I'd asked), issues you'll want to be knowledgeable about before you go to the vet for the first time, and general immediate health issues.
So, unless it’s a weekend (lucky you), you probably need to get to work soon, right? What are you going to do with Puppy when you need to leave him alone?
Make A Going-To-Work/Going Out Plan
Find a Daycare
Obviously, if you work regular hours and can't bring Puppy to the office, the ideal situation is taking him to daycare. Puppy will be happiest playing with other dogs all day, under the watchful supervision of attendants, and given ample opportunities to potty and exercise. This is a costly option and not always feasible on a daily basis, but it's important to find a place you and Puppy like so that you have a place in your back pocket. Then you'll also have a familiar and positive place to take Puppy if you need to board him (if you need to go out of town, for example). But be aware—daycares have requirements on what vaccinations Puppy must be up-to-date on before you’re allowed to drop him off!
*My two-cents on daycare: I once boarded Chance at a large facility that also offered daycare, and they had tons of clients. It looked like HEAVEN from the website--basically four separate dog parks that the dogs rotated through each day, including A WATERPARK. Obviously, they had many happy clients because they were very popular. Thing is...they were VERY popular. There were attendants with the dogs at all times, but the individual dogs weren't really directly supervised--and there were TONS OF THEM. I felt like the dogs were more or less left to their own devices. Chance's trainer, Matt Beisner at THE ZEN DOG, offers daycare and it's a much smaller facility and I think we both liked that much better--he still has a ton of fun playing with other dogs, but he doesn't come home shell-shocked.
Decide Where Puppy Will Stay When Home Alone
The MOST important thing I did right with Chance was decide to lock him up in the kitchen when I leave the house. I read somewhere early on that dogs do not need the run of the house to be entertained, and that giving them access to a large area while they're alone can actually stress them out more. Apparently, they feel like it's up to them to guard the whole house while you're gone, and they can't just relax. This stress is what leads to destructive behaviors like ripping apart pillows, digging through trash, peeing on the carpet, shredding toilet paper, etc. All that can be avoided if you set Puppy up for success and simply don't let those things ever be possible.
I make a little bed for Chance in the kitchen (his dog bed, a bowl of water, and a couple toys), I close the shades so direct sunlight doesn't stream in, crack the window if it's not freezing outside, and barricade the doorway with a removable child-gate that I store next to the fridge when not in use (my mom prefers a more permanent one, and it's actually quite nice-looking). You could also put Puppy in a bathroom, but I would avoid any place with cords near the floor he could chew on (like an office) or a room with furniture he's not allowed on (like a bedroom) because you won't be able to discipline him.
Establish a Leaving-the-House System
The crucial thing here, though, is how YOU act before, during, and after you put Puppy in his home-alone room. AGAIN--I AM NOT A DOG TRAINER!!!!! But I followed the Cesar Millan method to avoid separation anxiety to the letter, and it has worked BRILLIANTLY. Chance spends the entire time I'm gone napping--FOR UP TO FIVE HOURS AT A TIME.
Here's what I recommend you do:
- Set up the kitchen--bed/toys/water, etc.--and I would even pack up all the stuff you need to leave the house and put it right outside your front door (you don't want to establish a routine, like packing your purse or grabbing your keys, that reliably signals PERSON IS LEAVING THE HOUSE).
- Leash Puppy up--either take him or a full-on walk, or at the very least just take him outside to potty.
- When you come back inside, lead him straight to his bed in the kitchen and get him to lie down on the bed (if Puppy doesn't know "stay" yet, just do your best).
- DO NOT MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT LEAVING PUPPY. This is going to be so hard, I know. But it's so important that you do this for Puppy's sake. I don't even say goodbye. I pat his head a little, but that's it. The key is to not betray that YOU think there is anything abnormal about what's about to happen. Your whole attitude MUST scream "this is completely normal and there is no reason why anyone would make a big deal about what is happening." YOUR DOG DOES NOT NEED A DRAWN-OUT GOODBYE TO CONFIRM THAT YOU LOVE HIM.
- Walk away from Puppy and set up the gate behind you. The goal is to not leave the house until Puppy is completely calm. This is where you might want to use the "questionable training technique" from Chapter Two (hiding where Puppy can't see you, and hurling a bag of change at the doorway if Puppy starts whining or trying to get out of the kitchen). If you leave the house while Puppy is in an excited state, he will stay that way (or get even worse) while you're gone. When I first started doing this with Chance, I put him in the kitchen an hour before I had to leave the house to give him time to settle. It kills me every time, but I don't say anything to Chance as I walk out the door. OK...sometimes I say "nobody in or out, Chance." But that's more 'cause I think it's funny.
- When you get home, don't freak out over Puppy. Sometimes I say to Chance, "oh my god I missed you so much I can't even deal right now," but I say it with the same tone of voice that I would use to say, "the sun came out this morning and I'm pretty sure it will set tonight." You just don’t want the whole leaving/coming-home thing to be a big deal. Some trainers (including Cesar Millan!) will say don’t look at, talk to, or touch your dog upon returning home, but I just read a study that said this was mildly detrimental to the dog’s state of mind. So, in my opinion, you can totally go say hi to and pet Puppy when you get home. Definitely take him out to potty.
AGAIN: THE KEY TO THIS WHOLE THING IS YOUR ATTITUDE. If you don't act like you're torturing Puppy by leaving him cooped up in the kitchen, it will never occur to Puppy that he is being tortured. Chance knows the Carrie-is-about-to-leave routine, and when we come back in from pottying he walks by himself into the kitchen, goes straight to his bed, and curls up on it. I think he actually really enjoys being totally off-duty.
*A note on collars: So, you're definitely never supposed to leave a martingale or choke collar on your dog when he's unsupervised. I read conflicting advice on whether to leave any collar at all on him when he's alone--the fear is that he'll get it hooked on something and choke himself to death. Two things: First, there are no obvious hooks in my kitchen to worry about, and second, in the case of a fire while I'm not home (KNOCK ON WOOD), I figured it would be better for Chance to have a collar on for a heroic firefighter to grab to get him out. Right? Sigh. Anyway, that's why I leave his collar on.
If You Use a Dog-Walker, Make Sure They Follow the Leaving-Puppy-Alone Guidelines I Just Listed
Having someone come by to walk Puppy midday can be a great compromise between daycare and leaving Puppy home alone all day long. However, you need to make sure that the dogwalker leaves Puppy in the same calm state he found Puppy in--otherwise Puppy will be a neurotic mess until you come home, and it sorta defeats the purpose of having a dogwalker come in the first place.
Consider Purchasing a Puppycam
This is completely optional, but it has CHANGED MY LIFE. Before I got one, I would be a wreck the whole time I was gone, worrying about whether Chance was ok. Maybe he really did hate being left alone in the kitchen!! Maybe he spent the whole time barking, or whining, or digging!!! Maybe he just paced back and forth, and really needed to be kept in a bigger room!!
I was given a Nest Cam by my sometimes-not-demon-spawn brothers for a Christmas present, and I set it up every single time I leave, and it has revealed that Chance DOES NOTHING ALL DAY. He sleeps. He looks around, sniffs the air a little. Everrrrrryyyyy so often he'll get up, wander up to the gate, sniff around, then turn around and go back to his bed. If my day goes longer than I anticipated and I have to leave Chance alone longer than I wanted to, it's so comforting to check in and see that he really couldn't care less that I'm still gone.
It's a little costly and you need to have a Wifi network set up in your place, but then you just need to download the app, plug the thing in, and you've got live-streaming video straight to your phone (whether you and your phone are on Wifi or not--you just need to have some data connection). You can buy a monthly plan to have it record the video, but that's more for home security stuff. I don't get that, and I don't miss it.
OK, there's one last thing you need to do before you can go to work.
If You Can't Fit A Crate In Your Car, Plan To Purchase A Car-Harness
You Wouldn't Let Your Child Ride Without a Seatbelt, Right?
So you may have heard that a 2013 study revealed that tested car safety restraints for dogs had a 100% failure rate. In my opinion, this does not mean you just throw your hands up.
First, Puppy rides inside the car (not in the bed of the pickup). This is non-negotiable. Second, don't let Puppy hang his head out the window--I don't care how much fun he's having. Third, at the very least, make sure Puppy stays in the backseat.
And most importantly--restrain Puppy either with a harness or in a crate. "But Carrie," you may be saying, "you just said harnesses have a 100% failure rate!" Yeah well, if you're like me and have a small car and a big dog and can't fit a crate in your car, a harness is better than nothing. And there is emerging evidence that at least one harness--made by Sleepypod--is actually really good at preventing injuries to Puppy during a crash. If you're not convinced, go to the Sleepypod website and watch some terrifying slo-mo crash test videos featuring a puppy crash test dummy! And then imagine what would happen without any harness at all.
A Harness or Crate Isn't Just for the Impact Moment
A friend of mine was in an accident with his two beloved dogs in the car--one was able to get out of the car and, completely panicked, bolted away from the crash site and was never seen again. I recently saw a Facebook post about another dog who, in a crash so bad that the door was jacked open, escaped onto the freeway and was later found dead by a highway cleanup crew. You could be in an accident so bad that you are unresponsive--anyone trying to save you will most likely not be worried about catching your loose dog when they open the door to get to you. Tether Puppy down somehow.
So Really… Just Purchase a Sleepypod Harness
That's about it for the Really Big Important Issues You Need to Address Right Away. I hope you feel like you've got your bases covered a little bit. Take a deep breath and relax a little, because you are well on your way to a totally solid foundation with Puppy.
In the months ahead, you'll have to make decisions about training methods for Puppy, whether or not you want to take him to the dog park, how you want to negotiate interactions with other people and dogs, and there will probably be some fires you've got to put out that are specific to your dog. With Chance, one day he decided he did not want to go for walks--just threw on the brakes and refused to take another step. He also did a lot of nipping. As stuff like that pops up for you, just head to Google and literally type your question into the search field. You will probably get a lot of answers--some will directly contradict each other, and then you'll get to attempt to choose the right path for you and Puppy.
Just remember, most mistakes can be undone. Dogs are incredibly forgiving and malleable, and as long as you are completely confident--"I know we used to do it this way, Puppy, but from now on we're doing it THIS way!"--Puppy will probably not put up a huge fight.
Also, you'll probably want to start ordering some products. Don't forget to check your shopping list!